Stop what you’re doing to read this The New England Journal of Medicine perspective by Dr Doug Diekema. It’s about vaccines, opportunities for health, and physician obligation. Written for physicians, it also speaks loudly to parents and includes a few very essential points. The whole time I read the article, my thoughts kept leaping to our imminent opportunities. Today, in 2012, we can harness the tools of social media and technology to solve many of these problems. It’s time. HPV vaccine? Varicella vaccine? Remember your yearly flu shot?  I really think there could an app for that.

Let me explain.

Dr Diekema opens describing a scene very typical in Seattle.

Recently, the mother of a young child confessed to me that she didn’t know any parents who were following the recommended immunization schedule for their children. She said that when she told her pediatrician she’d like to follow an alternative schedule, the physician had simply acquiesced, leading her to assume that the recommended schedule had no advantage over the one she suggested.

Yes, the physician obliged her desired schedule for many reasons, I suspect: time restraints/desiring a partnership/a hope for future opportunities to provide education and update immunizations for the child. In a state (Washington) that leads the nation in vaccine exemptions, we encounter patients daily who prefer a delayed or personal schedule. I’ve written about parents and alternative schedules and physicians’ conditional comfort with alternative vaccine schedules. But when Dr Diekema mentions this family, he highlights what many pediatricians and family physicians realize: families may be clustered together in vaccine-hesitancy. Friends of friends instruct each about vaccine schedules and share beliefs about safety. We know that 40% of parents who use an alternative schedule create it themselves.

Family members persuade my patients not to get immunized. Even in the midst of a pertussis outbreak in the county in which I practice, grandparents and relatives of newborns refuse the Tdap vaccine. My patients are bombarded with advice and naysayers. Who we love (friends and family) and who we trust (friends and family) certainly affect what we do. My patients get confused. And most of health (care) conversations happen outside the exam room. Therefore, hesitancy clusters in neighborhoods naturally and poses regional risk. What if we had real time information about our schools? About our neighborhood? What if Google mapped our rates of protection from vaccinations? What if we had a smart phone app that provided us yearly data on school immunization/exemption rates when we selected a kindergarten? Why not an app for that? Read full post »